Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Our Hiding Place

The following meditation was shared with a group of people at First UMC of Pottsville, PA at the prayer service on October 24, 2009 following the murder/suicide of October 23rd. Our prayers continue to be with the people of Pottsville and our thanks to the pastors who supported Rev. Storm Hutchinson and Rev. Kris Perry. Thanks to Rev. Robert Wilt, District Superintendent of the NW District for his ministry as well.

“You are a hiding place for me, you preserve me from trouble, you surround me with songs of deliverance. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice O righteous! And shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”

Psalm 32: 7, 11

I used to love the game “hide and go seek.” There were many interesting places to hide in my house growing up as a child. I was very good as finding the best places. One of them was in the attic in the closet where the winter clothes were stored. Another good place was the wooden bath tub in the basement. The room where coal used to be stored was also a good place. The point of this game was to not be found. When you had a very good hiding place you could always win the game.

With God as your hiding place you have the best place of all. David wrote this psalm when he was going through a time of sadness. Through it all he felt the overwhelming protection of God. The hymn “Rock of Ages” was written by a pastor who was caught in a thunderstorm while traveling on horseback through an open field. He hid in the cleft of a rock while the storm passed and he likened this rock to God, who protected him from all sin and trouble.

On October 23, the town of Pottsville experienced a sadness that was terrible and devastating. It was an irony that the troubled one was seeking refuge in a church in his last moments before he took his life. I wish that he had reached out to God for help. Today there is shock and sadness over all that has happened and yet there is hope.

God is our hiding place still! God is the one who saves us from trouble. God is the one who surrounds us with songs of deliverance. We don’t need to fear, we don’t need to worry. Just trust in the hiding place of God to keep you safe.

The Psalmist goes on to say that we should be glad in the Lord and rejoice. Perhaps that is the last thing you may be feeling right now. Being glad in the Lord during sad times is a sign of faith that we know we will ultimately be alright. We can praise God in spite of the circumstances.

We can be like a bird perched on a branch in a wind storm that is still singing. The bird can sing because it knows it can fly. If a gust of wind may knock him off his branch he can just lift his wings and fly and not fall to the ground. We can sing for joy in the midst of the storm because we know that in Christ was have another life waiting for us. Christ brings us a hope for the future and a peace that passes understanding now.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A New Thing!

Isaiah 43:19 says “I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God is a God of new beginnings and new life. Over 200 years ago at Old St. Georges Church a sad act of racism caused a group of African American Methodists to leave the service and begin a new denomination. Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was started by Bishop Richard Allen because at the Methodist Episcopal Church there was racism and rejection. On Oct. 25th there will be a reunion of the two churches in a joint morning worship service at OId St. Georges. This will be the first time they have come together in over 200 years for a Sunday worship. Rev. Alfred Day (pastor of St. Georges) and Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler (pastor of Mother Bethel AME church) deserve much credit for their work to bring about this day. This reunion is a part of St. George’s 240th church anniversary and the 250th birthday celebration of Bishop Richard Allen. What seemed like an impossible thing years ago is now coming to life before our eyes. God is doing a new thing. May this day of unity and worship be just the beginning of better relations and understanding. May the racism and evil of the past be put totally behind us. May even newer and better things happen among us in the future.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Monday, October 12, 2009


In the parable of Judgment Day (Matthew 25: 31-46) the righteous were commended for many things: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving welcome to strangers, and visiting prisoners and sick people. All of these are fundamentally important works that God asks of us as Christians. The one item on this list that is a glaring every-day-no-brainer for church life is “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This is incredibly important not only as a sign of the Kingdom of God but as a fundamental part of congregational evangelism. Robert Schnase, in his book entitled Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations puts “radical hospitality” at the top of the list.

Most churches, if asked, would say that they are friendly and welcoming to new people but I would ask you test that out with your visitors. Many times regular church attendees are too busy chatting with their friends or handling church activities to take the time to seek out and intentionally welcome visitors. I have been a visitor in many congregations in the past year and have observed churches that ignore new people and don’t have greeters at every door.

Successful restaurants diligently train their employees in the practice of hospitality. We as the church of Jesus Christ are serving something far more eternal than a restaurant meal. We are offering the spiritual food of the Gospel in our churches. Be friendly! Welcome the stranger! Give them a welcome gift! Follow up with a phone call or a welcome letter. Especially welcome people who come from the margins of life or look different than you. I spoke with a man recently who had a severely physically challenged son and he described the painful experience of visiting 5 churches before he found a church that offered them hospitality. He said that people acted as if he was not there. I received a letter from a woman who visited a church that was predominantly Anglo and she was a person of color. She said that no one would sit with her in the service and she left feeling rejected and unwelcome. Sometimes it is not intentional but our visitors get ignored. We are all going on to perfection in this area, myself included. Please make an extra effort to make sure people feel welcome at your church. Have a meeting to review your “welcome” strategy.

I just visited a church that made an extra effort. I received a mug that had in it a number of things inside: a tea bag (to let you know you’re “tea-riffic”, a Life Saver (to remind you that you are a life saver to us), two pennies (so you know we want your 2 cents worth), a mint (to remind you that we’re thankful for your commit-“mint”), a paper clip (for keeping things together), a rubber band (to remind you to be flexible), Snickers candy (because everyone needs to laugh), Starburst candy (to let you know you’re a “shining Star” to us), “Hugs and Kisses” candy (to let you know that we appreciate you), binder clip (so you know we have a binding commitment to you), eraser (so you consider mistakes an opportunity to learn). Another church I visited gave a new testament to all of their visitors and a list of all of their ministries and events. Another church gave their new comers a loaf of home-made bread. The possibilities are endless. The most important gift is YOU…you being warm, friendly and welcoming.

How can your church improve in this area?

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Monday, October 5, 2009

Children’s Sabbath: Create Change for Children Today: Bring Hope and a Better Tomorrow

October 9-11 is the observance of a Children’s Sabbath. The Children’s Sabbath is a weekend that aims to unite religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf. I would like to share with you some important information from the Children’s Defense Fund.

The Children’s Sabbath is a time to celebrate existing efforts for children. Encourage the ministries your church are already involved in and those who have made an effort to make sure that ministry takes place every day of the year. We need to lift their work up in prayer and encourage them as they work for justice.

The Children’s Sabbath is a prophetic time when we seek the Spirit of the Lord to lead us into new opportunities to help children. The more than 13 million children living in poverty, without enough family income to provide the food, shelter, and other basic necessities for them to survive and thrive, need us to create change. The nine million children without health coverage who may not be able to see a doctor when they are sick or injured or for regular checkups need us to create change. The children who are being swept along in a pipeline to prison need us to create change. Every minute we wait, we lose another child.

In the words of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, “Many things can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time his bones are formed, his mind developed. To him we cannot say ‘tomorrow,’ his name is ‘Today.’”

When we create change today, it will bring hope and a better tomorrow for the children themselves and for all of us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects us directly affects all indirectly.” When we create change for children, we as a society will all be better for it.

Many factors and programs can reduce a child’s chances of growing up poor or reduce poverty’s impact on them. We can make a difference. As United Methodists we can take a step to lift children out of poverty and improve their lives. We can pray for discernment to what kind of action God is calling us to for the sake of the children living around us. We can seek to learn more about child poverty. The Children’s Defense Fund’s web site, www.childrensdefense.org has resources and a bibliography. You can volunteer to be in ministry through organizations serving children and families who are poor or start a new outreach in the name of Christ through your own church. Keep your eyes and heart open to opportunities to help connect poor families with the help they need. Be a voice for change on the behalf of children, so the help they need is not cut from budgets.

- Bishop Peggy A. Johnson